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Three Barriers to Transitioning to Clean Energy Sources

With the U.S. Department of Energy’s concerted effort to support and commercialize renewable energy technologies, many industries are looking to shift toward clean energy solutions. From the use of electric school buses to increased solar and wind energy installations and energy grid modeling, it’s clear that sustainable energy sources are shaping the future of energy.

While our world demands innovative sustainable energy sources, and innovations are edging us closer to a clean future, there are still many barriers to overcome before we reach 100% clean energy. Here are three of the biggest challenges the U.S. energy system faces as it plans to achieve clean energy targets – and ways to account for them.

Barrier 1: Implementation Costs Make High-Impact Adoption Difficult

According to the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero by 2025 report, to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, annual clean energy investment will need to more than triple by 2030 to reach about $4 trillion per year. High investment costs result in higher implementation costs, making clean energy technology adoption expensive. Whereas most marketplace technologies can achieve lower adoption costs through increased scale, large-scale implementation of clean energy solutions is often unrealistic due to considerable variation within the environmental context. For example, solar panel installation varies considerably between single-family homes, multi-family homes, apartment buildings, and retail complexes. These nuances make scaling clean technologies difficult, resulting in higher implementation costs and adoption resistance.

While high implementation costs make adoption difficult, there are a few ways to account for them. For example, providing financial incentives for clean technology installation can offset high adoption costs. Moreover, designing renewable energy solutions for increased efficiency can help lower long-term acquisition costs. Lastly, retrofitting old assets to make them more renewable and investing in net-zero capabilities in new building developments can help reduce long-term energy costs.

Barrier 2: Lack of Centralized Information and Unified Energy Standards

Carbon emissions data is not widely available to users in real-time, so it’s challenging to know the current state of carbon emissions. Moreover, there isn’t a centralized database that tracks carbon emissions data. More centralized information is needed to analyze and aggregate data, understand the current state of emissions, and make plans and projections for a clean future. Moreover, clean energy initiatives are often fragmented, as different states, regions, and countries have various renewable energy standards. Without a unified vision and standards, supporting a cohesive and efficient transition to clean energy is difficult.

Several advancements are necessary to combat this barrier, including:

  • A wide-scale, centralized database must be developed and implemented to house emissions data and enable collaborative planning.
  • Companies and industries must make detailed carbon emissions data available to consumers so they can monitor their individual use in real-time.
  • Legislative and corporate initiatives must be held accountable for progress.

Barrier 3: Lagging Systems and Infrastructure

Nuclear power, coal, and natural gas are all centralized energy sources, meaning they are produced in a few high-output power plants. In contrast, several forms of clean energy, such as wind and solar energy, rely on a decentralized model. In a decentralized model, energy is produced via smaller generating stations spread across various locations. These power stations then connect to form a more extensive transmission network. 

Decentralized clean energy systems require additional siting and transmission efforts, such as permitting, powerlines, and updated infrastructure, making implementation difficult. To leverage the power of wind and solar energy resources, transmission infrastructure — including power lines, charging stations, and energy plants — must be updated. To do this, local and state governments must collaborate with energy companies to support infrastructure upgrades. Researchers and innovators should also work with industry incumbents to identify ways to retrofit existing infrastructure or develop new cost-effective solutions.

Overcoming Barriers and Expanding Energy Capabilities

To achieve a future with 100% clean energy, we must embark on a large-scale transition to clean energy sources. While research, innovation, and commercialization have focused on increasing the presence and availability of green solutions, many barriers remain to be overcome throughout the energy transition. We must account for these barriers as we develop plans, invent new technologies, and expand energy capabilities.

Interested in learning more? Check out to see how Glo Park is breaking down barriers to clean energy transformations through its collaborative ecosystem of innovators, researchers, and entrepreneurs.